The neglect of the Government in Soviet studies is rooted finally in the behavioral revolution that gripped Western social science in the first two decades after World War II. The behavioral revolution shifted the focus of research from the state to society and from institutions to functions. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung so far as to lead to an abandonment, or at best a marginalization, of work that retained state institutions at the center of analysis. The result has been the rise of a generation of students and scholars who have little appreciation of the role of state executive institutions in Soviet politics. There has simply been nowhere to turn for an introductory, never mind a monograph-length, analysis of contemporary institutions such as the Ministry of Finance and the State Committee on Supply (Gossnab).
During the last decade, scholars in comparative politics with varied regional interests and political perspectives have been bringing the state back to the forefront of political inquiry. As Theda Skocpol argues, the movement is in some respects a Continental reaction to an Anglo-American paradigm that failed to account for the continuing centrality of the state to European, and often Latin American and Asian, politics. 4 The resulting research has not divorced the state from society but it has emphasized the relative autonomy of the state, and of the state's constituent institutions, in the formulation and implementation of policy.
The chapters that follow seek to revive an understanding of and interest in state institutions in the Soviet Union and its successor states. This is obviously a difficult time for such an enterprise. There is an understandable emphasis at present on groups and the rise of a civil society in Russia and on survey research that explores the linkages between individual attitudes and their social, cultural, and economic determinants. Further, the instability of the state and the crises of statehood in post-Soviet politics make institutions particularly slippery subjects for investigation. But both the Russian and Soviet heritages suggest that institutions of state will continue to propel and direct social change. In this period of state building--or perhaps more accurately state renovation--on the territories of the former USSR, it is essential to refocus attention on the development and behavior of state institutions as political actors. This volume, which examines the rise and fall of the Soviet Government and its leading ministries and state committees, is offered as a primer on state institutions and as an opening contribution to the debate on the state in the transition from Soviet to post-Soviet politics.